Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear how ill-prepared the world was for such a crisis. We can see how our inability to deal with decades-old existential threats – notably the degradation of ecosystems, climate change, and food insecurity – has exposed us to pandemics, disasters triggered by natural hazards, and now worsening hunger.
Today, the food crisis is the most immediate threat for many countries. Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine disrupted supplies of food staples and fertiliser, progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating global hunger had reversed. Asia and the Pacific has the highest number of people facing acute food insecurity worldwide – three times higher than before COVID-19 and due largely to fallout from the pandemic, climate-related events, and macro-economic stresses.
This year, food inflation has spiked to all-time highs for oil, cereals, and meat prices, and the cost of sugar and dairy products has soared. The FAO food price index, a global standard for measuring food prices, hit a record-high in March 2022, and though it has since retreated it remains 7.9% above its value a year ago.
There is no easy solution, but there is a clear path. A meaningful response must recognise the triple threat facing Asia—climate change, biodiversity loss, and food insecurity. These challenges are deeply interlinked, and the current food security crisis will get even worse if we fail to address them.
Floods, droughts, disease, and other climate impacts will curtail food production. The recent flooding in Pakistan reinforces this reality. Disruptions to livelihoods will drive even more food scarcity, compounded by climate-induced migration.
It’s also important to acknowledge the impacts of agriculture on climate and natural ecosystems. Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s water resources, 50% of habitable land, and causes up to 80% of biodiversity loss. Emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from agriculture contribute significantly to global warming.
Addressing climate change and biodiversity must not be an after-thought in efforts to end this food crisis. Rather, it should be central to a comprehensive transformation of global food systems.
A meaningful response must recognise the triple threat facing Asia—climate change, biodiversity loss, and food insecurity.
The first step is to overhaul food supply chain infrastructure to make it climate resilient. This means building infrastructure such as cold storage, warehouses, rural connectivity, and digital services that are accessible and affordable for farmers. The recent Pakistan floods showed the importance of building climate-resilient food storage such as silos.
Technologies such as early warning systems for extreme climate-related events, or online weather advisory and forecasting services, can help farmers manage their crops better. Better rural connectivity can support logistics of agriculture supplies, while technologies such as remote sensing can improve land-use planning and management through monitoring and diagnostics.
Second, we must ensure that food production is climate-smart through approaches like integrating natural resources management into efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Balancing productivity against climate change adaptation and mitigation outcomes demands a much broader perspective covering the entire food supply chain from production to processing, packaging, transportation and, finally, to the consumer.
Third, we must deploy nature-based solutions to support agricultural production while helping to regenerate ecosystems. Nature-based solutions involve conserving or rehabilitating natural ecosystems and the enhancement or creation of natural processes in modified or artificial ecosystems.
These solutions might include community-based agroforestry, which enhances soils and protects biodiversity while improving crop resilience and rural livelihoods. Integrating native flora into cattle pastures, reducing soil tillage intensity, and restoring habitats crucial to watershed health, are other good examples of nature-based solutions.
Delivering these and other solutions demands transformative change and innovation at every point along the food system. It will also involve behavioural changes in our consumption patterns. The role of the private sector will be critical, through smart investments in agriculture that deliver development impact as well as profit.
At an individual level, consumers can help by changing their dietary habits towards nutritious plant-based foods that produce less emissions than animal-based food production. Animal-based foods constitute nearly 57% of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production, and a shift to plant-based foods can lead to a significant reduction in these emissions.
Development organisations also have an important role. Recently, ADB announced its ambition to invest US$14 billion to address immediate and long-term challenges to food security between 2022-2025. Our support will focus on areas including farm inputs, food production and distribution, social protection, irrigation, and water resources management.
It also recognises the importance of fostering greater regional cooperation to avoid the threat of protectionist measures that aggravate food insecurity globally. The immediate priority is to support vulnerable people, and over the long term to strengthen food systems against climate change and biodiversity loss.
Without progress on climate and biodiversity, there will be no progress on food. The scale of this triple threat demands an unprecedented level of multilateral, private, and public sector cooperation.
We need to act now before the impacts of climate change worsen, leaving more families vulnerable and hungry, and eroding the region’s hard-won prosperity.
This blog relates to a comprehensive programme of support by ADB to ease food insecurity in Asia and the Pacific, and improve long-term food security by strengthening food systems against the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss.
Bruno Carrasco leads ADB-wide knowledge, innovation, policies and strategies in all thematic and sector operation areas and ensures compliance with environment and social safeguards policies. He oversees the administration of trust funds and global funding initiatives and provides advice to the management on strategic and policy matters, work plans and major operational matters. He joined ADB 23 years ago and has served in countries across all its regional departments.
As chief of Rural Development and Food Security (Agriculture) Thematic Group, Mr. Qingfeng Zhang is leading and overseeing ADB’s overall rural development, natural resources, food security, and agriculture operations by providing relevant and practical technical advice. During his last 16 years with the bank, Mr. Zhang processes and administers loan and technical assistance projects in green agricultural value chain, efficient use of natural resources (land, soil, water as well as agricultural wastes), climate resilient agriculture, rural renewable biomass energy, healthy agriculture-ecosystems, food safety and internet plus agriculture.